I’m a writer who’s about to marry a non-writer. My female writer-friends are urging me to get a prenup. Two of these friends have practically demanded I do so. One is much older and locked in a marriage she can’t leave without losing everything financially. The other has been engaged in an endless battle with her ex over the custody of their children, and also is greatly angered by the fact she was forced by the court to make a large payment to her ex-husband (a non-writer) because she completed a novel while they were married that will likely garner substantial sales.
Add to that the fact I was married once (long ago) to a writer who basically lived off of me, borrowed money from me he never paid back, and left me so deeply in debt I spent a good five years in credit counseling.
I never thought I’d get married again. For a long time, I believed the institution was fucked (and I still do, to a large extent). My fiancé just got divorced from someone who took all of his money, and he never pursued the matter in court because he’s simply not the type to go after money. Therefore, when I told him I was thinking about getting a prenup, he was very hurt.
I make no money off of my writing, but there is the matter of my literary estate. I consider how Sylvia Plath’s literary estate landed in the hands of Ted Hughes because their divorce wasn’t finalized at the time of her death. Moreover, I’m no longer in debt. I have substantial savings in my retirement fund, and I have a young daughter; if I should die all of a sudden, I’d like to see this money go straight to her.
Here’s my question: do I insist on a prenup? I worry that doing so could damage my fiancé’s trust in me. I do believe that we will be together “forever,” that he will become the legitimate father of my daughter (and eventually adopt her). To what extent should I, or must I, protect myself? After all, isn’t marriage about trust?
I trust this man implicitly. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t marry him. I am marrying him because I love him. I want to have a family with him, to be his partner, and in marrying him I’m also sharing my finances, job benefits, etc.
Help me, Fury. If I do choose to broach the matter of a prenup again (for I withdrew this request on seeing my fiancé so hurt), how should I go about it? I am leaning against getting one at all. Am I being foolish in doing so?
Wasn’t the Marrying Kind Until Now
Dear Wasn’t the Marrying Kind Until Now,
Bullshit. Why are you lying to yourself, and to me? If you weren’t the marrying kind until now you wouldn’t have been married once before. Simone de Beauvoir wasn’t the marrying kind; Diane Keaton isn’t the marrying kind. You, my dear, you who are getting married despite your disastrous first marriage and all the other examples of bad marriages your friends seem to surround you with; you, my dear, are a very skeptical, possibly quite guarded, definitely worried, romantic. Sorry.
So take a moment to get over all the crap you’ve been trying to sell yourself, your friends, and your advice columnist, and now let’s figure this shit out.
Let me say right off that you need to find a lawyer and you need to talk to her about prenups and estates and all of this multi-layered business, because this is serious stuff and you can’t just wing it and hope for the best.
After you call a lawyer, you need to call your friends and insist they back off, or at least prepare yourself to do so if they ever broach the topic again. Their situation is not your situation. Stop considering their situation when you consider your own situation. Lots of times our friends are looking for validation for their own history and/or mistakes and/or decent choices. It seems to me, however, that a good friend will not insist you do something that is not right or comfortable for you.
If you were totally into the idea of a prenup, then I’d tell you to rock on. It’s your money, you earned it, do whatever you want to protect it. But.
Here’s the thing: you seem to genuinely trust your fiancé and you’re the one who has to live with him for (hopefully) the rest of your lives and if what you don’t want is for him always to be thinking “she wanted a prenup, she doesn’t think this is forever, she doesn’t trust me” then maybe you shouldn’t have him sign one. No, marriage isn’t “about” trust, but trust is a big part of it. You say you love him and you trust him and you want to share everything with him and yet you want him to sign something that is kind of the international symbol for “I love you so much, Sweetie, but I don’t fucking trust you not to take all of my money.”
(Then again, maybe your friends aren’t being self-centered and pushy. Maybe they know something I don’t know. Maybe you have a tendency to act stupidly and rashly and they’ve seen you fall madly in and out of love dozens of times before. In which case, shame on you, because you didn’t include that info in your note to me and you’re wasting everyone’s time.)
I once opened a retirement fund and I remember filling out a part of the initial paperwork which said that, if I were married, the money would automatically go to my spouse if I died, unless my spouse signed off that it could go to someone else. What I’m saying is (and of course you need to check with a lawyer or an accountant or someone who is good at numbers and stiff language), I’m pretty sure your retirement money can go to your kid if you want it to. And, while the prenup thing may hurt your fiancé, this is different. If he’s as decent as I hope he is, as non-money-minded as you say he is, I can’t see why he’d be hurt by your retirement money going to your daughter if something tragic should happen to you.
Speaking of which, there is the matter of your literary estate. Sure you can spend time worrying that your legacy will end up as compromised as Plath’s might have been by Hughes, but, then again, those two lived in England, in the 1960’s, and I’m guessing different rules applied back then/there. So let’s deal with reality (you are such a romantic!).
I consulted with a lawyer just to get a general idea for you (you still need to call your very own lawyer in your very own state) and here’s what I dug up: I think you’ll be pretty relieved to know that a spouse defaults to being the main literary executor only if the deceased has not provided for some other executer in their will. So, if this is your main issue, a prenup isn’t even necessary because all you have to do is designate a specific person in your will and, if that person is a minor, as your child is presently, you would add a clause that appoints someone else until your kid is of age.
You can certainly have a provision in a prenup where your spouse waives the right to be literary executor, and then you’d be covered in both ways. The lawyer I spoke with stressed that, in these areas, it is generally smart to make your intentions knows as clearly as possible so there is no doubt after your tragic, early end. She put it this way: “…might as well go for belt and suspenders.” (I’m not sure if this is legalese or if she just enjoys strappy accessories.)
Look, you have a kid, a nest egg, a career, and a literary legacy, so you need to do what’s best for you, your child and that legacy. If you (that’s you, and not your friends) think a prenup is best, if you just feel that much more secure and anxiety-free with one, then have your fiancé sign one. Broach the subject directly, but gently, and, of course, give him time to get used to the idea. Maybe he’ll come to think of it as a way to make sure, if things don’t turn out the way you both plan for them to turn out, that you to stay in good financial shape, for your own sake as well as your daughter’s. Sure, he may be hurt by your insistence, but he’ll likely get over it. Besides, it’s that wounded look in our partners’ eyes that reminds us we’re all despicable people at heart.
If your fiancé stops trusting you because of this, then he wasn’t ready to trust you anyway, and why the hell would you want to get married to someone who doesn’t trust you? Oh, that’s right: because you’re the marrying kind.
Call a lawyer.
Illustration credits: Sarah Trzcinski